Therefore Choose Life
ALMOST everybody who is interested in Jews at all sometimes asks the question, “Are Jews a people or a sect?” Is Judaism an identity masquerading as a religion-a national identity (“the Hebrews”) or a cultural identity (“Jewishness”)? Valid Judaism invalidates the question. Judaism, a religion, is embodied in nation and culture. These are intrinsic and essential. In the medium is the message. Judaism has an almost Confucian feeling for the “oneness of knowledge and action.”
Many people call Judaism a religion, but a “lower religion,” ethnocentric and tribal. At best they see it as abortively universal, missing out on its own implications, which were yielded to the Church. Ezra Pound, putting it at the worst, gives the Hebrew Bible the same standing as tales of the Choctaw. Many observers, though milder than Pound, agree that Jews may travel but Judaism doesn’t: for all the fact of Gentile conversions to Judaism, in Hellenistic times and after, Judaism still looks like just a derivative of “the religion of the Semites,” part of a larger cultural repertoire. The religion is anthropologically interesting, not the other way around-the anthropology, or the community anthropologized, is not religiously interesting. How should it be, if the religion is just a department of a single people’s (though a complex people’s) life? What is this people’s kinship structure, what are its taboos … ?
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